The Journalist, Writer, and Traveler Yūnus Ṣāliḥ Baḥrī al-Ğabūrī (1903-1979) between Anti-Imperialism, Arabism, and National Socialism
This project investigates the historical field of tension between anti-imperialism, Arabism, and National Socialism with regard to the Iraqi journalist, writer, and traveler Yūnus Ṣāliḥ Baḥrī al-Ğābūrī (1903-1979). Baḥrī was born in Mossul, Iraq. He became a journalist and edited a newspaper in Baghdad and two newspapers in Indonesia (in Batavia, today’s Jakarta, and in Bogor, West Java) in the 1930s. He travelled extensively within Iraq and later throughout the Mashreq, North Africa, South East Asia, and Europe. The extent of his travels is well illustrated in a comment by the Italian journal “Oriente moderno” in 1932, which called him the “Ibn Baṭṭūṭa of our century.” Between 1939 and 1945, he worked in the Arabic office in Berlin and as a speaker of Arabic radio propaganda for the National Socialist regime. In 1958, he returned to Iraq. There, he was arrested and imprisoned in Abu Ghraib for seven months, before he was released. He has published books on a variety of topics, including an autobiography of his years in Berlin and memoirs of his imprisonment. He has also written on Iraq, Palestine, the Maghreb, and pan-Islamism.
A central concern of this project is to understand Baḥrī’s life and his journalistic activities in relation to the discourses and movements of anti-imperialism, Arabism, and National Socialism. A related question concerns how these discourses and movements intersected in his life. While examining these issues, an attempt will be made to go beyond the common dichotomy that has often been used to explain the cooperation of Arab anti-imperialists with the National Socialist regime. This dichotomy tends to reduce the possible explanations of such cooperation to either an instrumentalist interpretation (“the enemy of my enemy is my friend”) or a complete ideological agreement between Arab exiles and National Socialism. In contrast to such a binary framework, Baḥrī’s life can be situated within multiple histories whose interrelations have to be closely scrutinized. Apart from anti-imperialism, Arabism, and National Socialism, one can point to other concepts, ideologies, and sets of practices such as fascism, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism, modernity, democracy, Islam, and pan-Islamism. As a consequence, the question arises about the various ways in which Baḥrī related to these notions and histories and how he conceived their mutual relations.
Asking this question, however, requires an analytic perspective that avoids treating these notions as blanket terms that stand outside of history. An interpretative method should therefore take account of their variety of usages, understandings, translations, appropriations, as well as the complex relation between continuities and discontinuities in a global life such as Baḥrī’. The project thus utilizes a biographical and micro-historical approach that looks at both his various activities at multiple sites and his textual production. Specifically, his texts – to the extent that they are available – will be examined with regard to their interpretive patterns and narrative strategies. The extant transcripts of the Arabic propaganda broadcasts will also be closely studied. Notions such as anti-imperialism, Arabism, and National Socialism are understood as referring to political languages, that is, as language practices which are changeable, institutionalizable, and controllable to varying degrees, used for different reasons and purposes, translated, and fully or partly appropriated in different ways at various times and places. Accordingly, Baḥrī’s life will be examined from a translocal perspective to investigate the dialectical entwinement of the local, regional, and global dimensions in his activities. By tracing the history of a particular person, it is also possible to trace both the histories of particular words and concepts, i.e. interpretive patterns and ways of arguing.
Verbundprojekt der Freie Universität Berlin, HU zu Berlin, Universität Hamburg und ETH Zürich